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Engaging Place: a Framework for the Integration
and Realisation of Virtual-Reality Approaches in
The resulting 3-D experience has to be seen to be believed: r/w? is what virtual reality is all about"
Renfrew 1996, 7 (emphasis added)
As archaeologists have embraced and welcomed developments in information technology and visualisation, they have found
themselves working increasingly under the auspices of Virtual-Reality. Despite this enthusiastic uptake, it can be argued that
as of yet, archaeology has failed to realise that as a defining term, Virtual-Reality is far from unproblematic. As a direct result,
questions as to what we mean by Virtual-Reality, and what our expensively assembled models represent have been left largely
unexplored.The present discussion aims to address precisely these questions, by taking a critical look at the term Virtual-
Reality. Current dominant conceptualisations and definitions of Virtual-Reality will be characterised, along with the
frameworks and attitudes they foster, and the notional Virtual-archaeology they imply. Following on from this, an alternative
developmental trajectory will be suggested that better exploits the unique capabilities of such systems in helping to facilitate
archaeological interpretation. Issues such as authenticity, the representation as fake and role of Virtual-model as static end-
product will be investigated, and an alternative definition will be offered and explored which has enormous significance for the
future realisation of the technology within the broad context of archaeological research.
1 Introduction
1.1 Preamble
As a term, 'Virtual-Reality' has become ubiquitous within
all aspects of contemporary Western society, synonymous
with a developing generation of photo-realistic and fully
interactive computer-generated environments. As a
discipline, archaeology has been quick to begin to explore
the potential of such developments through a number of
initiatives and innovative case-studies. These have involved
the generation of highly complex, and it should be added
costly, models such as Virtual-Stonehenge, and continued
research into more egalitarian technologies such as the
Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML) extensions to
the World Wide Web (WWW). The result has been a steady
flow of innovative research papers and the recent
appearance of more weighty mainstream tomes, such as
"Virtual Archaeology" (Forte 1996).
As archaeologists have embraced and welcomed such
developments in information technology and visualisation,
they have found themselves working increasingly under the
explicit auspices of Virtual-Reality. Yet despite this
enthusiastic uptake, it can be argued that as of yet,
archaeology has failed to face up to the fact that as a
defining term, Virtual-Reality is far from unproblematic. As
a direct result of this uncritical acceptance, fundamental
questions relating to issues such as what we actually mean
by Virtual-Reality, and what our expensively assembled
models truly represent have been left largely unexplored.
The present discussion aims to address precisely these
questions, by taking a critical look at the term Virtual-
Reality. This conceptual investigation will be framed and
contextualised with reference to a case-study involving
research into potentially the most exciting and accessible of
all of the current wave of developments in Virtual-Reality,
VRML. Through an explicit discussion outlining the issues
which prompted and directed this study, an attempt will be
made to characterise current dominant conceptualisations
and definitions of Virtual-Reality, along with the
frameworks and attitudes they foster, and the notional
Virtual-archaeology they imply. Following directly on from
this, the conceptual underpinnings of existing
archaeological applications will be shown to be lacking, and
an alternative developmental trajectory will be suggested,
that better exploits the unique capabilities of such systems in
helping to facilitate archaeological interpretation. During
the course of this discussion issues such as authenticity, the
representation as a fake and role of VR model as desired
end-product will be investigated. Building upon this, an
alternative definition of Virtual-Reality will be offered and
explored which has enormous significance for the future
realisation of the technology within the broad context of
archaeological research.
1.2 A brief background
This attempt to outline a developmental framework for
archaeological Virtual-Reality is embedded within a wider
exploration of the role that can be played by virtual-
modelling applications, in close association with GIS-based
approaches, in bridging developments in archaeological
2 Putting theory into practice
2.1 What drove the study - why virtual reality?
Let us begin by looking at the factors that prompted the
original decision to explore the potential of Virtual-Reality
based approaches, in effect addressing the question: why
attempt to expand the GIS-approach through the avenue of
virtual modelling? The principal motivation derived fi-om a
growing interest in issues relating to embodiment, process
and the social nature of space and time, as fore-grounded in
a number of recent theoretical debates by researchers such as
Barrett and Tilley (Barrett 1994; Tilley 1994). This interest
was itself driven by the growing realisation that a number of
clear theoretical shortcomings existed in my own ongoing
research into person-environment relations in the complex
prehistoric flood-plain landscapes of north-eastern Hungary.
Here, the traditional functionalist and deterministic
interpretive frameworks offered by the generic-GIS proved
increasingly sterile as more experiential and embedded
notions of Being and Dwelling, such as those discussed by
Thomas and Ingold, came increasingly to the fore (Thomas
1996; Ingold 1995).
In wanting to accommodate such conceptual approaches into
my GIS-based analytical framework, I became deeply
dissatisfied with existing attempts within the field of
archaeological-GIS to identify, challenge and overcome a
perceived theoretical inertia. This sense of stasis has been
discussed exhaustively over the last three years and I do not
want to repeat debates in any detail here, suffice to say that
the inertia manifested itself most clearly as an
environmental bias, whether in the guise of hard
determinism or soft possibilism. As I have argued elsewhere,
arguments in defence or support of an environmental
primacy in GIS-based work, appeared to be caught up with
the symptoms rather than the cause, failing to address or
acknowledge the existence of much more fundamental
underlying dualisms such as that enforced between culture
and nature (Gillings, forthcoming). The dominant
alternative to determinism, championed by those calling for
a more "humanised" GIS, took the form of viewshed
analysis. As an approach this also seemed far from
unproblematic, being dominated by an uncritical visualism
and enforcing an implicit dichotomy between a static,
privileged observer and that to be observed. Following on
from the work of the psychologist Gibson, and the
elaboration of his ecological approach to perception within
the spheres of anthropology and geography, I wanted to
structure my ongoing investigations into people and
landscape from the perspective of people as active exploring
animals situated in an environment (for a useful summary of
Gibson's approaches see: Ingold 1992, 45-8; Rodaway 1994,
This not only entailed a re-questioning of dualisms such as
culture : nature, but also stressed the active and mobile
nature of multi-sensual perception and the necessity of fore-
grounding embodiment. In an attempt to move beyond the
see-saw arguments regarding Determinism, and the limited
and far from unproblematic platform of viewshed based
analyses, the decision was made to move in a different
direction. This comprised an attempt to incorporate the
notion of an active, mobile, situated observer into my GIS
analytical environment. In an attempt to achieve this,
research was initiated with the aim of exploring the
potential synergy that could be harnessed from integrating
developments in affordable visualisation and virtual-reality
technologies and GIS.
The key point to highlight is that the investigations into the
potential of Virtual-Reality were driven by an explicit
problem and constituted from the outset, a clear attempt to
bridge developments in theory and practice. In addition, in
developing and exploring methodologies a number of
criteria were brought to the fore: the approaches developed
had to be flexible and affordable, the latter being partly
contingent but also inexorably tied up with the fact that they
also had to be reproducible by, and communicable to, the
wider community of archaeologists and interested parties.
2.2 The Hadrian's Wall tower at Peel Gap
To illustrate how these aims and objectives were realised in
practice I will take a brief look at one of the first case-
studies undertaken, focusing upon the enigmatic Roman
tower of Peel Gap. As mentioned earlier, the precise
methodologies employed in the generation of the various
models and visualisations to be discussed, have been
published in detail elsewhere and I will only attempt to
briefly summarise them here. The Tower at Peel Gap
comprises a small, rectangular structure which was added to
the back face of Hadrian's Wall shortly after its construction
in the early second century AD. For a simple account of the
feature itself and general locational and structural details
concerning the broader context of Hadrian's Wall see
Johnson (1989:61-2). In its size and ground plan, the
structure resembles most closely the regular series of turrets
that characterise the length of the wall. These turret features
have traditionally been interpreted as observation posts,
functionally located so as to maximise the views out beyond
the frontier and to either side along the line of the Wall. The
location of the Peel Gap tower however, appears to directly
contradict this received notion of optimum defensive
location, as it is nestled neatly at the base of a narrow pass
through the dramatic crags which dominate the central
sector of the wall. This choice of location appears to be
deliberate and is in preference to more defensibly suitable
high ground situated immediately to either side. The
In practice a detailed micro-topographical survey of the
immediate landscape of the tower was undertaken and a
detailed record was made of the footprint of the Wall and
related features, such as the course of the contemporary road
- the Military way, as they crossed the study area. The
survey derived data was then imported into the Arc/Info GIS
where a Im resolution digital elevation model (DEM) was
constructed and a viewshed calculated from the top of the
tower, assuming a combined tower and look-out height of
11m. The resulting viewshed served to confirm earlier
reservations as to the strategic significance of locating an
observation post in this position, as the identified zone of
visible ground was heavily restricted, focusing not upon the
lands beyond the frontier but instead upon the immediate
surroundings of the pass itself and the area to the rear of the
Although undoubtedly highly useful, the viewshed as
generated had a number of shortcomings, particularly given
the overall aims of the research exercise. The analysis failed
to incorporate the notion of the observer as mobile and
situated, instead the viewshed was static, serving to abstract
a dynamic and uncertain perceptual act into a simple, well-
defined projected zone, located unambiguously upon a flat
projected map. Taking the GIS-based viewshed not as an
end-product but as a first step, attempts were then made to
enhance and complement it through the application of
visualisation and Virtual-Reality based approaches. In
practice, the line of the wall and tower foundations were
used as a template from which a basic structural re-
construction was undertaken in CAD. This was simply
rendered and a number of animation sequences were
generated. These served to re-create the view yielded by a
gentle 360 degree rotation by a hypothetical observer located
atop the reconstructed tower. As well as exploring the 'view-
from', the effects of 'viewing-to' were explored by moving
an observer past the structure along the course of the
Military Way. The results were fascinating. In the former
case, although the view out to the area beyond Hadrian's
Wall was indeed seen to be blocked, as indicated by the GIS-
based study, what was not at all obvious was the way in
which the course of the Military Way dominated the view to
the rear, often tracking the visible sky-line. In the case of the
'view-to' what was most striking was the suddenness with
which the tower first appeared out from behind the looming
bulk of the crags.
These re-constructions and animation sequences served to
situate the observer and incorporated a degree of mobility,
but they were still prescriptive. The final, and critical stage
was to generate a representation whereby the observer was
able to freely engage with the re-creation, choosing their
own paths through, and their own viewing points within, the
landscape. In addition, an important proviso was that
observers should not only be able to freely engage with the
representation, but they also had to be able to obtain, view,
modify and alter it, treating it not as a definitive end-product
but as a manipulable medium that could be incorporated into
their own analytical environments. This would enable our
tendered interpretation to be scrutinised and new
interpretations to be formulated. As a result the decision was
taken to implement the re-creation using Virtual-Reality
based techniques, specifically VRML, with the resulting
model being freely distributed via the WWW. The landscape
could now be viewed from anywhere within it. Observers
could explore the views from the tower or approach the wall
from within the landscape actively seeking a position on the
crags where you could see over the wall to the mysteries
beyond. Functional factors such as the possibility of a Wall-
top walkway could be assessed and the effects of altering the
reconstructed tower height explored dynamically.
In each case the visualisations and Virtual-Reality model
added further dimensions to the Boolean viewshed yielded
by the traditional GIS-based study. These are best viewed
not as steps in a procedure, nor as evolutionary 'stages' - in
effect progressively more useful replacements for one
another. Instead they should be regarded as a group of
complementary approaches which as a whole offer a unique
methodology for looking in a more flexible and situated way
at the functional status of Hadrian's Wall with respect to its
direct landscape context.
Having generated our
Having generated our
Virtual models how do
virtual models what do
we, and the wider public
we then do with them?
perceive them?
Are they realistic? Are
The VR representation as
they faithful? - Here we
end-product, an ingenious
encounter issues relating
picture to be viewed and
to the status of reality.
studied, as opposed to the
authenticity and the
VR representation as
potentially problematic
interpretive device, open
status of the
to negotiation.
representation as fake.
exploration and the
principles of montage and
Figure 1: The underlying Issues.
2.3 What the resulting VRML model is and what it
is not
Having looked briefly at the factors that prompted an
original investigation into the utility of Virtual-Reality and
how this was realised in practice, it is important to move on
to consider the principal topic of the current discussion, and
attempt to clarify what precisely the results of the Virtual-
reality modelling component of the exercise represent and, I
would argue more importantly, what they do not represent.
My contention here will be that whatever they do represent
it is not reality, nor is it in any way an end-product.
To explore this proposition I intend to pose a number of
fundamental questions and examine a number of important
3 The dominant perception
3.1 What is virtuai reaiity?
One of the principal questions asked of any computer-based
representation, by archaeologists and the general public
alike, is a variation of 'How realistic is it' '. Implicit in this
question is a degree of suspicion, and the notion that the
model is in some way trying to deceive, fool or seduce the
viewer. To be able to adequately explore this phenomenon,
we must take fundamental issue with the term Virtual-
Reality itself. As mentioned in the introduction, the term is
ubiquitous within all aspects of contemporary Western
culture, yet as a term it is far from unproblematic. It finds
itself being used increasingly in a host of disparate contexts,
yet rarely is it explicitly theorised. I would argue that the
uncertainties arising from this state of affairs are
particularly acute in the context of archaeological
applications. As a result, in discussing how we and others
actually perceive our carefully generated representations, we
must first establish what we actually mean when we define a
given re-creation or model as Virtually-Real. In effect pose
the question: what is virtual-reality?
In his discussions as to the mathematisation of experience,
the historian of Science, Gray, proposed two definitions. The
first, and dominant definition, positions Virtual-Reality as a
manufactured deficiency. This suggests that a Virtual-
Reality represents a reality that is lacking, in Grays words
'almost but not quite real'. The second definition positions it
instead as a manufactured intensity. Here the suggestion is
that a Virtual-Reality represents a reality that 'is more
intense and concentrated than so-called everyday nature'
(Gray 1995, 343-6). A statement that we could perhaps
simplify to read more real than real.
Looking more directly to the field of archaeological
research, the most clear and influential definition has been
that provided by Reilly in his seminal paper "Towards a
Virtual Archaeology" (Reilly 1991). Here Virtual-Reality
and the virtual-archaeology it implied were defined in terms
of the notion of a surrogate. The Virtual-Reality model
serves to act as a replacement for an original. The closeness
or "faithfulness" of the approximation of any given model to
its original referent is dictated by the quality and volume of
data that has gone into its generation. This is implicit in the
pioneering work of the Fumess Abbey project published in
the same volume, where ground-plans and traditional 2-D
archaeological drawings were used to re-construct and
model portions of the abbey on a meticulous stone-by-stone
basis (Delooze and Wood 1991). This approach has been
refined more recently by Bayliss in his stunning re-
construction of the Basilica church of the Alacami in
southern Turkey. Here a detailed combination of texture
mapping and architectural reconstruction have been used to
model the entire structure of the building (Bayliss
forthcoming). In each case the re-creation is achieved
through the painstaking manipulation and re-assembly of
the basic units of architectural detail. The issues of
faithfulness, realism and authenticity are addressed through
ever closer attention to recording, the optimisation of data
collection techniques, and the fine-detail of model
construction^. In both examples the Virtual reconstruction is
seen to stand in an inferior position to an original referent,
with the degree of closeness related directly to the quantity
and quality of information put into it. Simply put, the better
and more optimised the data used in its construction, the
more faithful the Virtual model is, and the closer it comes to
the reality it seeks, or purports, to represent. In addition, as
a result of this notion of the Virtual-Reality model as a
painstakingly sophisticated surrogate, the reconstructions
run the risk of being reified, becoming in effect end-
products, finished, completed, free-standing and there to be
visually devoured. As suggested in the introductory quote,
ingenious pictures but pictures nevertheless. This is in
opposition to the reconstructions as flexible components in a
much wider, on-going process, open to negotiation and
As such, this dominant archaeological interpretation of
Virtual-Reality parallels closely Gray's notion of a
manufactured deficiency, with the Virtual-model taking the
form of a doppelganger, or surrogate, which is as faithful a
replica as possible but somehow, somewhere, lacking.
Underlying the definition offered by Reilly and the examples
cited, is the idea of an attainable, tangible reality to which
the virtual representation, or surrogate, aspires and therefore
against which it invites comparison and can in some way be
tested and compared. On this point it is interesting to note
that in studying 'Virtual-Stonehenge' it could be argued that
the observer-explorer becomes aware of the painstaking
attention to detail and accuracy that has gone into its
production not when moving amongst the stones themselves,
but instead when they encounter the everyday familiarity of
the underpass, information boards, turnstiles and post-box of
the visitors centre, which they have already repeatedly
encountered at Stonehenge and in a host of other routine
daily contexts \
Assuming that this proposition is valid, in the case of an
extant structure, whether the Alacami or Stonehenge
turnstile, you could argue that a tangible original does in
fact exist. With the majority of archaeological
representations, however, whether of built structures or the
very landscape itself, there is no tangible referent.
Looking to the Peel Gap case-study, beyond some neafly re-
pointed foundation stones, there is no reality against which
the representation can be tested or to which it can aspire.
We could argue that what reality there is resides wholly
within the confines of the representation itself. We have
generated a wall and a tower rather than offered up a
faithfiil copy. Nor does it represent an end-product, a
completed and free-standing entity presented to the observer
for interpretation. The re-creation is flexible and shifting
and observers are actively encouraged to manipulate and re-
negotiate our tendered representation. This is a point that
will be returned to later when we begin to discuss the status
of a given Virtual model not as an end-product but as an
ongoing dialogue.
What is clear is that there are a number of fundamental
problems associated with the acceptance of, and adherence
What I intend to argue here is that in the context of
archaeological Virtual-Reality models and dynamic-
interactive visualisations, whether highly complex and
reified such as the Alacami or simple and negotiable such as
the Peel Gap tower, the term Virtual-Reality as traditionally
understood and applied is misplaced and misleading. Far
fi-om providing archaeology with a valid and all-
encompassing framework within which to develop and
explore approaches, the uncritical adoption of the term
Virtual-Reality could instead serve to marginalise such
approaches, by restricting the extent of their application and
clouding and muddling their true utility. As the
Phenomenologist Dovey has argued in a broad discussion as
to the nature of authenticity and the replication of
environmental meaning, approaches such as the
archaeological tendency to characterise Virtual-
representations as surrogates, i.e. manufactured deficiencies,
engenders an investigative operation on the part of the
observer. There is an active search for clues indicating
authenticity, which itself leads to a sense of empirical testing
rather than an openness to disclosure of the represented
place. This attitude of mistrust in turn feeds a growing sense
that the Virtual-representations have to become increasingly
sophisticated in order to, in Dovey's words, "thwart
investigations and capture real meanings" (Dovey 1985, 38-
9). As a result we will rapidly find ourselves caught up in an
increasingly sophisticated, but ultimately circular, dead-end,
that runs the risk of relegating Virtual-Reality research to
the marginal fringes of archaeological investigation.
Assuming then that the term Virtual-Reality, with its
dominant connotation of manufactured deficiency is of
limited value to archaeology what is the alternative? Here I
would like to build upon and adapt Gray's notion of Virtual-
Reality as manufactured intensity. Looking to the work of
critical theorists such as Baudrillard and Eco, rather than
adopting Virtual-Reality as a blanket descriptor within the
field of computer-based archaeological re-creation, a
particular reading of the term 'hyperreality' may be more
3.2 Hyperreality
"Hyper-reality is a slippery term."
(Rodaway 1995:244)
At this point it would be sensible to provide a clear
definition of hyperreality, however, the first thing to realise
about the term is that it is highly provisional, continually
metamorphosing and thus works tirelessly to elude concise
definition (Rodaway 1995:244). The term was fore-
grounded by Baudrillard in the context of discussions
relating to modes of signification and a perceived
breakdown in the relationship between signs and original
referents. The notion of the hyperreal developed in his
claims that within modem society the existence of reality
was no longer guaranteed by the signs it emitted, instead
signs were now seen to construct the real, as simulations. To
Baudrillard a simulation did not provide an equivalent for a
given reality nor reproduce it, instead the simulation
generated it. To quote Baudrillard, "Abstraction today is no
longer that of the map, the double, the mirror...Simulation is
no longer that of territory, a referential being or substance. It
is the generation of models of a real without origin or
reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the
map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes
the territory.... it is the map that engenders the territory"
(Baudrillard 1983: 2)
In discussing formulations of hyperreality, to Baudrillard the
'real' became nothing more than that it is possible to
reproduce and is always already reproduced. The hyperreal
became simply the more real than real (Baudrillard 1983:
146; Horrocks and Jevtic 1996:109). Commentators disagree
as to whether hyperreality is best treated as a concept or a
tool, and more significantly for archaeology, whether it
represents a tangible thing that resides in specific places, for
example Disneyland, Jorvik and Virtual- Stonehenge, or a
process that exists in the relationship between subjects (for
example archaeologists) and objects (re-evocations such as
Jorvik and Virtual-Stonehenge) "*.
The former is best illustrated by studies such as Eco's
observations of contemporary America, and in the
archaeological context. Diamond's fascinating study of the
Lascaux II cave re-creation (Eco 1986; Diamond 1996, 30-
41). Hyperreality as process has been most fully explored by
Rodaway in his detailed examination of the mapping of the
subject in the context of 'living' heritage museums, such as
Beamish, and theme parks (Rodaway 1995, 256-63).
Such a distinction is perhaps illusory. In the context of the
present discussi(Mi hyperreality is best thought of as both,
being embodied within particular locations and situations,
which are themselves part of a broader on-going process of
experiencing the world.
Far from suggesting a wholesale replacement within the
context of archaeological research of the term Virtual-
Reality with that of hyperreality, for reasons which will
become clear when we begin to discuss the issue of
authenticity, the central theme I wish to extract from the
above discussion concerns the recurring characterisation of
the hyperreal in terms of simulations which are generated of
the real without origin or reality, the only reality being that
generated by the simulation.
Returning to the example of the Fumess Abbey project, in
discussing why the model had been created, one of the clear
benefits of a virtual model over a traditional set of abstracted
plans, elevations and reconstruction drawings was identified
by the authors as the facility to actually get inside and walk
around the reconstructed buildings. This would give the
observer a greater sense of "being there" (Delooze and
Wood 1991, 144). In light of the preceding discussions into
Virtual-Reality as manufactured intensity and the role of the
,,• 33.
The simulations are more real than real in that they provide
a vision which, quite literally, gives you more (Rodaway
1995, 246). This, I feel, is the key to a re-defmition of
Virtual-Reality that will enable us to overcome current
tendencies towards increasing methodological refmement
and reification, and more fully realise the potential of such
techniques and approaches within mainstream
archaeological research.
3.3 The issues of authenticity and faithfulness.
If then, a defmition of Virtual-Reality is taken which
emphasises the status of any given model not as a
manufactured deficiency but as an intensity, what becomes
of the issue of authenticity and the investigative operation
this encourages in the observer, that I have claimed is
inexorably tied up with the former conceptualisation?
Taking the discussion of hyperreality to its logical and
extreme conclusion we could argue that the issue simply
does not exist, or that it is a non-issue. Questions relating to
authenticity and faithfulness no longer have meaning as, to
quote Baudrillard, "...illusion is no longer possible because
the real is no longer possible" (ibid. 246). I do not, however,
intend to side-step the issue of authenticity by hiding behind
a veneer of f)ostmodem rhetoric. The issue is critically
important to an interpretive archaeology. As Shanks has
argued in his recent discussion of photography and
archaeology, uncertainty and doubt are the roots of
interpretation. Meaning can only come through embracing
both certainty and doubt, making connections and exploring
contexts (Shanks 1996,79-80). However, in discussing the
authenticity of a given model, rather than stressing the issue
of visual approximation, intimately bound up in ideas of
manufactured deficiency, I intend to follow Dovey in
asserting that authenticity is not a property of form, but
instead is a property of process and a relationship or
connectedness between people and their world. Dovey
asserts that authentic meaning cannot be created through
any manipulation of form, as authenticity is the very source
from which form gains meaning, a position echoed by a
number of recent archaeological investigations into agency,
practice and monumentality, for example Barrett's study of
Avebury (Dovey 1985, 33; Barrett 1994).
Returning to the examples mentioned earlier, however
architecturally faithful the Virtual re-creations of Fumess
abbey or the basilica church of Alacami are, the virtual-
stones do not carry mason's marks, the virtual-floor the
shine of a thousand footfalls nor is the virtual-interior
cluttered with the bricolage of everyday social practice. And
the vital point is that painstakingly adding them is not the
answer as it will make no difference to the issue of
authenticity. What Dovey argues is that the critical
difference between an original and its representation is not
in the detail of form but in the richness of environmental, or
experiential, depth. He illustrates this with reference to a
"fake" beach recently constructed in the Arizona desert. The
beach has waves and sand but no crabs, sharks, undertow,
driftwood, shells to be found, rockpools to explore, sea
breezes or salt air (Dovey 1985, 39-40). Whereas the
original is a learning environment that fully embodies a
sense of encounter, experience and process, the
representation lacks spatial and historical depth, diversity
and variation. This echoes Shank's distinction in the realm
of archaeological photography between Naturalism and
Realism. Here Naturalism refers solely to the replication of
external features whereas Realism is more concerned with
extended metaphors, patterns of association and allegory. To
quote Shanks "A realistic representation is not only, or
necessarily naturalistic" (Shanks 1996, 78).
The point here is that any given Virtual-representation can
never be authentic. The considerable efforts currently being
expended in incorporating ever more detail into models,
whether through the use of individual bricks and stones
rather than simplified macro-entities, or the application of
highly complex textures, achieve little more than the
generation of an even more fastidious investigative attitude
on the part of the observer. This is summarised neatly by
Dovey in his assertion that "..authenticity has the indigenous
quality of being inborn. The problem lies not in the
searching, which is genuine, but in the misplaced belief that
authenticity can be generated by the manipulation of
appearance" (Dovey 1985, 47). Saying that a given re-
creation is inauthentic is not, however, to say that it is either
actively deceiving us or that it is not useftil. A beach located
in the middle of a desert is not in a position to fool anybody
but it does not stop it being a nice place to spend an
afternoon. Neither is it to be seen as advocating and
endorsing some naive form of judgemental relativism (for a
useful discussion on the issue of relativism see Shanks and
Hodder 1995, 19). This brings us onto the last of the issues
that need to be addressed, having generated a Virtual
archaeological model what do we then do with it?
3.4 The role of virtuai-reaiity in archaeologicai
If we accept that far from directly reflecting or aspiring to an
original referent or "reality", the only reality is that
generated by the models themselves, and in addition
acknowledge that the issue of authenticity is concerned not
with direct comparison and evaluation of form, but with
engagement and process, we are in a strong position to move
forward. If we regard our representations, however fine the
detail that has gone in, as always critically lacking depth, we
can begin to move beyond attitudes of suspicion and the
rampant and fastidious empiricism they foster.
The dominant characterisation of Virtual-Reality as a
deficient surrogate prompts an investigative procedure on
the part of the observer which in turn leads to ever more
refined attempts to thwart it. And so the cycle goes on. We
must realise that the negative connotation of deception
arises directly from the notion that our carefully constructed
representations should and faithfully do represent the past,
which is in turn a legacy of our dominant characterisation of
Virtual-Reality as a manufactured deficiency. Our Virtual-
representations are fakes but they are not trying to deceive
us into thinking anything otherwise, and this in no way
diminishes their utility to us as archaeologists as catalysts
for exploration and interpretation. Looking to the Peel gap
case-study, the Virtual model and related visualisations were
When we come to exploring arguably the most fundamental
issues of all, what are the models for, and how do they help
us in the process of interpretation, we often find that far
from embracing the Virtual-models as a new means of
exploring ideas, we have exhausted ourselves in addressing
and maintaining this cycle of suspicion. As a result the
models are left as little more than ingenious images to be
viewed and consumed. To quote Renfrew from his
introduction to the recent volume 'Virtual Archaeology' "As
he (the editor) puts it, the aim is 'to make archaeological
information... visually real': the great quantities of data now
available must actually be made to inform us, not just sit in a
data bank" (Renfrew 1996, 7). They become a closed end-
product, something passive to be gazed at, whether from
without, within, a fixed viewing point or a flexible one. In
effect they become the passive images rather than objects of
analysis highlighted by researchers such as Molyneaux
(Molyneaux 1996). Building on the recent work of Shanks,
and his translation of the passive photograph into the active
Photowork, Virtual-representafions can instead serve to
facilitate new modes of engagement and interpretation. The
emphasis must be on process rather than the critical
appraisal of mere form. In this sense, in the case of the Peel
Gap re-creation the sense of frustration in not being able to
see over a section of wall to the other side becomes as
important as the attention that has gone into 'realistically'
weathering the texture of the stones blocking our view. The
Virtual-models are there to be worked with and on rather
than consumed, and can and must be negotiated, modified
and engaged in the exploration of connections and context
inherent in the twin processes of collage and montage that
Shanks sees as central to a developing mode of
archaeological practice (Shanks 1996, 83-4).
4 Conclusions
Virtual-Reality applications within archaeology represent a
growing and highly fertile field of study. At present
however, applications are under-theorised, dominated by a
received notion of Virtual-Reality that emphasises the role
of Virtual models as deficient surrogates. It has been argued
that whilst such an interpretation remains in place the true
utility and potential of such developments to the wide field
of archaeological research will not be realised, as time and
effort is expended not on analysis and interpretation but on
ever increasing visual sophistication.
The suggestion here is that far from treating our models as
deficient surrogates a more productive approach is to
characterise them as manufactured intensities, emphasising
their hyperreality and inauthenticity and encouraging
archaeologists to explore their true potential in the study of
issues bound intimately with engagement and process.
Developments in Virtual-reality have the potential to
radically re-orient how we approach, negotiate and interpret
our carefully recorded archaeological information and it is
crucially important that such approaches are not relegated to
the creation of ingenious but esoteric galleries. Rather than a
programmatic statement for the development of a Virtual
archaeology, the aim of the present discussion has been to
highlight a number of limitations and suggest a platform
from which applications can more freely develop. The rest is
up to us.
1. This assumption was reinfOTced, in an entirely qualitative way,
during a gruelling open-day held at the School of Archaeological
studies in the University of Leicester on a chilly day in February
1997. IXiring the course of the day a number of VR models and
visualisations, ranging from the most basic to the most
sophisticated were exhibited to a seemingly endless stream of field
archaeologists, academics and members of the public alike.
2. Contra to Daniel, in his recent discussion as to the importance of
solid-modelling, I would argue that this is regardless of whether
initial efforts are directed towards the accurate texture-mapping of
a simple geometric structure, or the more Lego-based approach
advocating the use of solid representations of the original
component building blocks (Daniel 1997).
3. As an aside it is worth noting that one of the most striking
things about archaeological Virtual-models is the lack of people in
them. As a result, wandering around re-creations such as Virtual-
Stonehenge can be a very ghostly and unsettling experience.
4. It is interesting to note that authors cannot even decide whether
the term should be hyphenated or not. In the present discussion I
have followed Baudrillard and Eco in not hyphenating, excepting
when directly quoting from other authors.
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Contact details
Mark Gillings » . .
School of Archaeological Studies
University of Leicester .
University Road
Leicester, LEI 7RH ' ;
UK " • •,:"•""
email: mg41@le.ac.uk •